Claire Komarek / CBS Sports

LAS VEGAS — When evaluating Super Bowl teams, I always like to rank the starters, which means a total of 46 players counting both nickel corners. I don't count specialists because by now you know my disdain for kickers and punters. 

As we get ready for Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers (here's how to watch on CBS, Nickelodeon and Paramount+), I ranked the starters 1-46 based on who started in the two championship games, which takes into account some injury issues. 

It's pretty obvious who the top player is in this game -- and in the league. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is trying to win his third Super Bowl in the past six seasons, including last year, is on his way to being perhaps the best player this league has ever seen. Mahomes has a nice start on trying to take down Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback, but there is work to be done.

Mahomes is a clear No. 1, but what does the rest of the list show? It shows the teams are pretty split when in comes to the best players. The 49ers have six of the top 10 players and 11 of the top 20. But the Chiefs have three of the top 5 in my rankings.

Among other things the rankings show: 

  • The offensive lines, aside from a a handful of players at the top -- including 49ers left tackle Trent Williams, who is ranked third here -- are ranked low. That could mean a lot of issues for both quarterbacks.
  • The Chiefs corners are a strength, with all three being ranked in the top 22 and two in the top 14.
  • Mahomes has a big edge at quarterback. But that's not a slight of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. He checks in at No. 13 in my rankings. He is far more than a game manager, but this game will go a long way in deciding how removed from that title he is truly is as a quarterback.

So take a look at the rankings and go ahead and complain all you want. That's the idea. Maybe this will help you decide who to pick. Maybe it won't.

But this much I know: The guy at the top is clearly the difference in any game. That means his value is far greater than just one spot since he's on his way to being the Michael Jordan of his sport. 

Ranking Super Bowl LVIII starters
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
This guy is special. Even when he was counted out earlier this year, he finds a way to get it done. He's on his way to being the best ever.
Christian McCaffrey San Francisco 49ers RB
McCaffrey makes the offense go. His ability to run it and catch it is makes him such a tough matchup. He is almost guaranteed to score a touchdown every game.
Trent Williams San Francisco 49ers OT
When he missed time this season, the offense wasn't the same. He's the best left tackle in the league who is on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Travis Kelce Kansas City Chiefs TE
Kelce didn't have a great season by his standards, but he has turned it on in the postseason. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers defend him. Dare they try and play him in man coverage?
Chris Jones Kansas City Chiefs DE
Jones is a game wrecker. He has to be accounted for in big situations since he can be so disruptive. He can line up inside and outside to create issues for an offensive line. He seems to raise his play in big games and big moments.
Nick Bosa San Francisco 49ers DE
He is a dynamic pass rusher who can get sacks in bunches. His play hasn't been as good this season, but he can still ruin a game for an offense.
Fred Warner San Francisco 49ers MLB
Warner's the best run-and-hit linebacker in the league. His speed will be key to containing Travis Kelce and helping keep Mahomes from scrambling for big plays.
George Kittle San Francisco 49ers TE
It's not often Kittle's the second-best tight end in a game, but he is in this one. Even so, he is the second-best tight end in the league, which isn't bad.
Trent McDuffie Kansas City Chiefs CB
McDuffie has emerged as a star corner this season, whether playing outside or in the slot. He's a good tackler, which is important against the 49ers passing game.
Brandon Aiyuk San Francisco 49ers WR
Aiyuk has been a big-play threat in their offense this season, making him their top receiver. Deebo Samuel gets the headlines, but Aiyuk is the top outside threat.
Deebo Samuel San Francisco 49ers WR
He can do so many things for their offense, bringing a physical style to it. He will line up all over the place, making him a real challenge for a defense.
Creed Humphrey Kansas City Chiefs C
Humphrey's play dipped some early in the season, but he bounced back with a better second half. He equally as good as a run blocker and in pass protection, making him one of the league's best centers.
Brock Purdy San Francisco 49ers QB
Purdy's story of being the last pick in the draft to Super Bowl starter is amazing. And anybody who thinks he's just a game manager is way off base. But this will be a big challenge for him against Steve Spagnuolo.
L'Jarius Sneed Kansas City Chiefs CB
Sneed's ability to match up in coverage gives the Chiefs a lot of versatility on the back end. He can match the other team's top receiver, which could see him on Brandon Aiyuk.
Charvarius Ward San Francisco 49ers CB
Ward had his best season, one that earned him a lot of praise. He's the best cover player on the roster for the 49ers, one of the few defensive players who has been good in the postseason.
Isiah Pacheco Kansas City Chiefs RB
Pacheco is the key to the Chiefs running attack. His violent style should be able to have success against a 49ers run defense that has struggled the second half of the season and in the playoffs.
Dre Greenlaw San Francisco 49ers LB
Like teammate Fred Warner, he has the speed to chase down a lot of plays and excel in coverage. Running at him is probably the best strategy.
George Karlaftis Kansas City Chiefs DE
Karlaftis has made a big improvement in his second season, giving the Chiefs a nice second option up front to go with Chris Jones. His pass rush will be key in this game.
Arik Armstead San Francisco 49ers DE
He is a good interior pass rusher, but he can have issues in the run game. He has struggled the past two weeks against the run.
Trey Smith Kansas City Chiefs G
Smith's a physical mauler in the run game, who should be key to getting push inside against a vulnerable 49ers front. He is good in pass protection, but that's not his strong suit.
Rashee Rice Kansas City Chiefs WR
This rookie has emerged as the best Chiefs receiver, coming on strong in the second half. He has the game-breaking ability that has to be accounted for on every passing play.
Deommodore Lenoir San Francisco 49ers CB
Lenoir's one of the most-improved players this season for the 49ers defense. But he struggled against the Lions.
Joshua Williams Kansas City Chiefs CB
In his second season, he has made big strides as a coverage player, giving the Chiefs three quality corners. He's been really good the past two weeks.
Javon Hargrave San Francisco 49ers NT
Hargrave's a good interior pass rusher, but his run defense has always been the problem with his game. He gets moved in the run game, which could be a focus for the Chiefs.
Nick Bolton Kansas City Chiefs LB
Bolton missed a lot of time this year with a wrist injury, but he's back playing and is a big part of their defense. His play dropped off this season some, but he came up big in last year's Super Bowl with a scoop-and-score fumble return.
Chase Young San Francisco 49ers DE
Young has four sacks since coming over in Week 10, but none in the playoffs. His run defense has been suspect as well. He's more name than game right now.
Drue Tranquill Kansas City Chiefs LB
Tranquill started for Willie Gay against the Ravens and had a heck of a game. He has the ability to cover a lot of ground.
Justin Reid Kansas City Chiefs SS
Reid is a big hitter who is better in the run game than in pass coverage. He's played some of his best football the past three postseason games. He's a chess piece Steve Spagnuolo loves to move around.
Leo Chenal Kansas City Chiefs LB
As the weak-side linebacker, he doesn't play a ton of snaps. But when he does, he's a solid run player who won't kill them in pass coverage.
Michael Danna Kansas City Chiefs DE
Danna has developed into a quality edge player. He holds his own in the run game and can generate pressure both inside and outside.
Jake Brendel San Francisco 49ers C
Brendel has developed into a solid starter in the middle of their line. The best part of his game is his run blocking, which is a must in their scheme
Kyle Juszczyk San Francisco 49ers FB
The 49ers are one of the few teams that use a fullback, and they are lucky to have one of the best. He doesn't carry the ball much, but he is a capable receiver and a good blocker.
Jawaan Taylor Kansas City Chiefs OT
In his first season with the Chiefs, he's had an up-and-down season. He's had a lot of penalties and he's struggles in the run game
Mike Edwards Kansas City Chiefs SAF
This veteran safety gives the back end some stability. His tackling at times can be a problem, which can be key against a 49ers team that gets a lot of yards after the catch.
Colton McKivitz San Francisco 49ers OT
McKivitz has started every game this season at right tackle. He has had moments where he's struggled in pass protection, but he fits their mold of athletic linemen.
Donovan Smith Kansas City Chiefs OT
This nine-year veteran battled through some injuries this year and had some rough moments. He was solid in pass protection against the Ravens, which is his strong suit. He isn't great in the run game.
Tashaun Gipson San Francisco 49ers FS
Gipson is a smart veteran safety, but he has missed a lot of tackles lately and he isn't as fast as he used to be. He can be a problem in coverage at times.
Justin Watson Kansas City Chiefs WR
This sometimes starter averages 17 yards per catch on his 29 receptions, which shows his big-play ability. He has also had some drop issues this season.
Ji'Ayir Brown San Francisco 49ers SAF
This rookie is starting because Talanoa Hufanga is out with an injury. He has struggled the past two weeks in coverage, so look for the Patrick Mahomes to attack him.
Aaron Banks San Francisco 49ers G
Banks is a big-bodied guard who is better as a run blocker than he is in pass protection. He has to be better than he's been the past two games.
Nick Allegretti Kansas City Chiefs OG
Allegretti started for Joe Thuney in the AFC Championship game and held up. He isn't Thuney, but he's a fighter who can do a solid job if he is asked to start again.
Jon Feliciano San Francisco 49ers OG
Feliciano is a tough, physical veteran who took over as the starter at right guard late in the season. He sometimes has issues in pass protection.
Oren Burks San Francisco 49ers LB
As the weak-side linebacker, he doesn't play a ton of snaps. When he is on the field, he is just OK in terms of both run defense and coverage.
Ambry Thomas San Francisco 49ers CB
Thomas had some impressive games this season, but he's had coverage issues down the stretch and in the playoffs. He needs to be better against Patrick Mahomes.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling Kansas City Chiefs WR
Valdes-Scantling has had a case of the drops this season, but he has redeemed himself some in the postseason. He had some big catches the past two weeks and his speed is threatening to a defense.
Mike Pennel Kansas City Chiefs DT
Pennel is the wide body in the middle of their line. He has been an injury replacement for Derrick Nnadi in the middle of their line.